Almost 3,000 students registered to vote in Williamsburg

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October 7, 2008

1:38 AM

The lines of voters at Williamsburg polling places will have a more collegiate look this November.

Campus groups, including the Student Assembly, Young Democrats and College Republicans, have worked together to register as many students as possible in Williamsburg for the Nov. 4 election. Registration efforts on campus could bring the number of registered voters at the College to approximately 2,940 students.

Prior to yesterday’s registration deadline, Williamsburg Voter Registrar Winifred Sowder estimated that more than 600 applications have been filed this year, of which she believes 75 percent are students at the College.

Witkowsky said he could see that number potentially being much larger, although official figures have yet to be released.

“If you count the number of students that [the SA] registered to their on-campus or off-campus addresses, it’s probably around 600 to 700 [students] this semester,” he said. “That’s from move-in day to today.”

College Republicans President Scott Morris ’10 attributes the large number of students registering to the combined efforts of campus groups.

“Numerous clubs and organizations have made extensive efforts to bring the registration forms to their members, thereby making it as convenient as possible for them to register,” Morris said.

Morris said the College Republicans has registered 30 to 40 students, but that affiliate organizations were also registering students.

Campus groups set up registration tables around campus at places like the Commons Dining Hall, the Sadler Center and Earl Gregg Swem Library to allow students to register between other activities.

“We have tried to be vocal and make sure [students] know when and where they can register,” Witkowsky said. “We set up tables at Swem. We had people go to different meetings on campus to hand out applications. We had tables at different campus events like UCAB [events] and at the Student Activities Fair.”

Jared Calfee ’10, the leader of Students for Obama, thinks the visibility and accessibility of registration tables has increased interest among students.

“We always try to work locations with a lot of foot traffic so that we are exposed to as many students as possible,” he said.

Calfee said Students for Obama has worked together with the Young Democrats and local Obama campaign staff to register students.

“I believe that the local [Obama] office has registered about 500 to 600 students on campus. This includes work done by [Students for Obama] and the Young Democrats.”

The SA estimates that 1,800 students registered to vote last year in the city council election. The graduation of the Class of 2008’s more than 1,200 members decreased the number of registered students by roughly 200.
Many students from outside of Williamsburg could not vote in the city until last year when new voter registrar Winifred Sowder lifted the ban.

Although students at the College can now vote in the city, many remain unregistered, Calfee said. Reasons for the difficulties of registering students vary from students’ busy schedules to misunderstandings about the registration process.

“Students are busy, especially here at the [College], and this year is no different,” Calfee said. “But the process of actually registering to vote takes about one minute. The difficulty is not in the registration, [it’s] more that students don’t know where to go or what to do or, in most cases, just don’t think about it until the deadline is passed.”

Many groups sent e-mails and posted flyers to alert students about yesterday’s registration deadline. Group members at registration tables made sure passersby knew about the cutoff as well.

“What we tried to do was make sure students knew when the voter registration deadline was and most importantly just give them an easy way to step up and get registered,” Calfee said. “They see our table, they come up, and we tell them that we can register them right there. They don’t even have to mail the form in — we handle everything for them.”

“The idea is that we try to ensure that no student on campus has an excuse for not registering to vote,” he said.

The large number of student voters could also have an effect on the way future elections are held in Williamsburg. Under Virginia law, a precinct cannot have more than 5,000 registered voters in it, after which it can be redrawn into multiple precincts.

“The Student Assembly is looking into how this would affect student voters,” Witkowsky said. “Getting [a precinct] on campus is one of my goals. Now that the registration’s over, [the SA] is working on the precinct stuff.”

While supporting different candidates, Morris and Calfee agree that this election is important for students at the College and for the nation as a whole.

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